Ashley Garris on THIS HASN’T BEEN A VERY MAGICAL JOURNEY SO FAR, a novel by Homeless

What are you supposed to do when Sid, an orange cat wearing a leather jacket, knocks on your door significantly later than he was supposed to? Well, if you’re trying to find your recently deceased lover, then you go on a journey with Sid, naturally. This Hasn’t Been a Very Magical Journey So Far by Homeless explores the journey of the non-country music legend, Hank Williams, as he tries to come to terms with the loss of The Most Beautiful Human in the World, or as she later chooses the name, Patsy Cline, who he meets at the mental hospital they’re both committed at. We are given a close third-person perspective where we know from the start that Hank Williams is going to be an unreliable reliable narrator as he tells his story of how he met and how he lost Patsy Cline.

The novel balances comedy, nihilism, and grief to tell a heartfelt story that amuses you with its absurdity and makes you laugh with unexpected bits of comedy like how the sun is actually just a big empty coffee cup in the sky that has a hairline crack going down the side. Through this humor and unexpected journey that gets more absurd as it progresses Homeless shows the mental state of the character and how he is trying to come to terms with the loss of the one person he loved.

Homeless utilizes a clean and clear minimalist style of writing to focus on the absurdity of the world which allows the reader to suspend disbelief by stating the absurd facts in such matter of fact ways. This contract is established at the start using short chapters, whose titles give away what will happen in that chapter, which help serve the absurdist nature of the novel. While I wasn’t sold on the chapter titles in the beginning, they quickly establish themselves as integral to the story to set the theme and setting of the chapters.

The book uses flashbacks from Hank Williams to develop not only his character but Patsy Cline as well. These flashbacks pay off in the ending as they successfully braid together and come full circle to show why Hank Williams and Sid are on this not very magical journey and why Patsy Cline is so integral to Hank Williams. We begin with her being described as having a smile that “looked like a black cat holding a dead canary in its teeth,” to figuring out how she became his umbrella and how he became hers.

The motif of the umbrella is clever and presents love in a way that is unique and essential to the characters. From the beginning, Sid carries around a brown umbrella that he then attaches to his car, Nancy. Then, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams establish each other as the other’s “umbrella,” because Patsy Cline is able to stop the centipede rain falling on Hank Williams’s brain. While this could have been a forced motif, Homeless pulls it off effortlessly through the absurdity of the piece along with by having the umbrella be an essential part of the book from start to finish.

While the matter-of-fact writing style works well for the book, there are times that Homeless seemed to over explain himself and the logic of the world to convince the reader that this is how the world really worked. This was especially true in the beginning when Sid was introduced. I think that readers would be willing to accept that Sid was an abnormal cat without having Hank Williams “responding to the cat as if it’s completely normal for a cat to be talking to him even though he know[s] it’s not.” Homeless would be able to condense that and explain how he meets Sid without going into “this cat should not exist, and I know that,” it would still work well. However, this over explanation does do a lot of work to help establish the voice of the character, and how Hank Williams tends to overthink what he’s seeing or doing, like when he’s trying to console Patsy Cline but tries to figure out how close or far away he’s should be sitting from her.

This over explanation also helps submerge the reader into the laws of the universe, but it can come off as the writer not being fully confident in the universe he created. However, as the piece progressed, it was as if Homeless trusts the world he created and that the reader was on board with the world logic. Like when Sid and Hank Williams go to the gas station after they plan to use smoke bombs but it falls through because they don’t have any, but there just happens to be a special going on at the gas station that customers who buy a tank of gas get a basket full of free smoke bombs. This scene would have been easy to try and over explain why there would be smoke bombs for sale at a gas station, but Homeless has balanced his absurd and the logical to make it believable that this would be possible.

This not very magical journey leads to be a very magical book that uses this world to explore the human nature of losing a loved one and working to come to terms with that loss and how avoidance is not an effective coping mechanism for dealing with loss.

This Hasn’t Been a Very Magical Journey So Far, by Homeless. Expat Press. $10.00, paper.

Ashley Garris studies psychology and creative writing at Winthrop University. Her writing can be found under her pen name Blake Ainsley in Across the Margin and Z Publishing

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